I’ve been excitedly telling everyone, or at least anyone that will listen, that the ITV racing team will be in the Scottish Borders on Saturday in order to present coverage of the races from Kelso. Which is absolutely true, but also slightly confusing.
Because if you tune your telly to ITV on Saturday afternoon, expecting to see the horseracing, you’ll probably witness a murder. It’s the one where DCI Barnaby investigates the outspoken proprietor of Midsomer Life Magazine, after a dead body is found in Midsomer Sonning. I think I’ve seen it before and I don’t think there were any horses in it. Maybe one – but it wasn’t a Thoroughbred.
So, if it’s racehorses that you want to see, make sure that you switch over to ITV4, where you’ll find Oli Bell, Ed Chamberlin and the rest of the team cooking up a treat for viewers. There’ll be a £50,000 handicap steeplechase, two £40,000 handicap hurdle races, a novices’ steeplechase and lots of banter. I’m just hoping that no one gets murdered. Not even Matt Chapman, who provokes marmite-like comparisons among racing fans. Like him or dislike him, he certainly enriches the stew when added to the ITV-pot of wholesome ingredients.
As in any good kitchen, there has been plenty of preparation ahead of Saturday’s show, principally by the ITV production team. If the races themselves constitute the meat of the programme and previews of next week’s Aintree Festival represent the vegetables, what special garnish, you might wonder, will be provided by the Borders backdrop?
The Scottish Borders is like no other part of Britain. The rich heritage of horseracing, combined with an equestrian culture that compels virtually every man, woman and child to acquire horse-handling skills, has created a fertile breeding ground for jockeys, trainers and stable staff. Everyone here knows someone who owns a racehorse or who rides racehorses for a living.
Interestingly, many of the race-meetings that take place in the Borders go completely unreported by the national media, never mind feature on terrestrial TV channels. There are six racecourses within a twenty-five mile drive of Hawick which, in addition to Kelso, include two point-to-point courses and three flapping tracks. The flapping tracks stage racing which is not governed by the BHA, frequently including pony races as part of the local Common Riding Festivals – no wonder the Scottish Borders has incubated the careers of more than twenty jockeys in the last few years – more than any other part of mainland Britain.
While hoping that the coverage will show off the undeniable beauty of the Borders landscape, I’m also optimistic that commentator Mark Johnson will be calling out the name of this week’s selection: Baywing, who is entered for the Liz Adam Memorial Handicap Steeplechase, having already performed a favour for followers of this blog on his previous outing when winning the Eider Chase at Newcastle.
Whether Kelso appears on ITV1 or ITV4, matters not a jot. Since they started broadcasting horseracing again in January last year, the combined ITV stable of channels has worked incredibly effectively for the sport. Their superb production values help to communicate the true feeling of the races to viewers at home. Meanwhile, the large audiences of ITV1 have grown racing’s fan-base and the audience share of ITV4 is rivalling the percentages achieved by Channel 4 for their coverage of equivalent fixtures.
If you tune in on Saturday and discover that you’re watching John Nettles by mistake, do switch over to ITV4 because (spoiler alert) we all know that it was the butler that did it, in the Weighing Room with the lead pipe…